Protecting A Place “Too Special To Drill”


Guest post by EarthShare member Trust for Public Land


Dan Smitherman is a retired U.S. Marine officer who looks like a classic Old West cowboy as he sits atop a horse and gazes out across the Hoback Basin near Jackson, Wyoming.

“I am the antithesis of a treehugger,” he says. And yet, he was the leader of a successful charge last year that saved 58,000 acres of forests in the Hoback from being drilled for natural gas.

The Trust for Public Land partnered with Smitherman, other local Wyoming residents, and a coalition of environmental organizations to raise $8.75 million and buy out the leasing rights that would have allowed the Plains Exploration Company to drill 136 wells on the land.  The leases were retired earlier this year.

Smitherman grew up on a farm and began hunting when he was five years old.  He visited Wyoming in the mid-1980s to hunt and later began his own outfitting business, acting as a guide to lead hunters into the mountains of the Wyoming Range, along the Hoback River. 

The land is popular with local residents, who call it “too special to drill.” Much of the surface of the land was already protected as part of the Bridger-Teton National Forest.  But PXP held existing legal leases to drill underneath the forest for the oil and gas that lies below.

When The Trust for Public Land stepped in to buy the lease rights, it had only 150 days to raise enough money.  Local citizens and donors rallied to the cause, and with the support of individuals through programs such as the Combined Federal Campaign, the goal was met.

Hundreds of supporters donated to “save an acre,” local bands staged benefit concerts, and a group of steelworkers contributed a portion of their union dues.

The largest donation came from Hansjorg Wyss, a businessman and philanthropist who lives in nearby Wilson, Wyoming.  He contributed $4.25 million through his charitable foundation.  “I’m pleased to support a practical solution for Wyoming that— with this milestone —is now a proud American legacy,” Wyss said.  “This is about neighbors and communities coming together to protect an iconic Western landscape, so the Wyoming Range will always remain open for everyone to hunt, fish, hike, and explore.”

Will Rogers, President of The Trust for Public Land, said, “This solution honors the wishes of the people of Wyoming and protects a vital corner of the Greater Yellowstone region for generations to come.”

The Trust for Public Land (, with the support of the Combined Federal Campaign, protects land for people to enjoy as parks, gardens, and open space.


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We see your point, Jane, and thanks for sharing. With more and more examples like Mr. Smitherton to hold up as environmental champions, perhaps we can slowly correct the remaining societal misperceptions about what it means to be an environmentalist.


I hate to break it to Mr. Smitherman - but he is a tree hugger. Granted he does not exactly fit the unflattering stereotype of a "treehugger." But who does??

All of us who believe in preserving land and water from poison and destructive development are essentially that. The stereotype was developed to keep people from acting - thank goodness Mr. Smitherman did not buy it!

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